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Las Vegas-area workshops aimed at improving girls’ body images

To help girls deal with body self-consciousness, social pressures and other issues, Girl Nation is offering workshops called “What I Wish I Knew Going Into High School.”

At the helm is Girl Nation founder and clinical psychologist Carli Snyder. Her dissertation for her doctorate at the California School of Professional Psychology in the Los Angeles area was on how puberty puts girls at risk for a negative body image, which can lead to eating disorders. She founded Girl Nation in Las Vegas in 2015 and said she has had more than 100 girls go through her workshops.

“I had this belief that it was going to be for middle school girls and possibly even older. But what I learned very quickly was what a need there was (to start with) the younger ones,” Snyder said.

So she has reached out to second- and third-graders to combat the “mean girl” games they can face.

Snyder also hosts Girl Nation workshops at schools. The Alexander Dawson School, 10845 W. Desert Inn Road, for example, hosted a 10-week after-school Girl Nation program last fall. It was so successful, the school invited her to do another 10-week program.

“Some of the girls (repeated) it. I joke around that they’re my Girl Nation Groupies,” Snyder said.

Snyder spoke about body-image issues and eating disorders at The Meadows School, 8601 Scholar Lane. Future “What I Wish I Knew Going Into High School” weekend workshops are planned; the next one, for fifth- and sixth-graders, is set for 1-5 p.m. May 21 at Belly Bliss, 5761 S. Fort Apache Road. The cost is $150; visit itsgirlnation.com.

The program addresses a range of issues including body image, conflict resolution and bullying. A study from the NYU Child Study Center shows that most American girls’ self-esteem peaks by age 9, then plummets.

“We help the girls understand how to work through girl drama but in a way that they can be heard, have a voice and not be afraid to speak up,” Snyder said.

Some activities are aimed at fostering feelings of friendship and support. There are lessons disguised as crafts. Sometimes it’s role playing. High-schoolers are part of the teachings, to offer input.

Snyder tackles advertisements by showing a Dove Evolution YouTube video. It shows an army of makeup artists and hairstylists descending on a young, fresh-faced woman. The resulting magazine photo wasn’t deemed good enough and was digitally altered.

“So many of these people that we see on TV don’t look that way in real life. … And we live in Las Vegas, where so much of the industry is about looking a certain way,” Snyder said.

Sophie Smeeton, 9 and a student at Alexander Dawson, attended the class twice and has signed up for a third.

“I really enjoyed it because I felt it was a place where the girls could express themselves and share their feelings,” she said. “… Now, I feel better about myself because I have all these new ideas in my mind, knowing that there are people there for me.”

Her mother, Danielle, said she wished such a class had been available when she was a teen in Ohio.

“My own experiences in high school were very difficult,” she said. “Girls are mean and particularly groups of girls can be mean and exclusionary if you’re not part of the group — one of the cool kids, the athletes, the cheerleaders, in the band. I didn’t fall into any of those categories. It was difficult to navigate through school.”

Danielle read self-help books and attended events so she could pass on advice to her three daughters.

The final activity of Girl Nation is a “letting go” ceremony, including the release of helium balloons.

“I want this to be a safe place, a what-happens-here-stays-here kind of thing so they know there’s nothing they can’t talk about,” Snyder said.

For program details, go to tinyurl.com/ksfnyzm.

Contact Jan Hogan at jhogan@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2949.

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